SIMON RIX: Led by a new breed of players, football is making modern icons on and off the pitch.

Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips has spoken out about his experiences as a black man and a black footballer. PICTURE: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips has spoken out about his experiences as a black man and a black footballer. PICTURE: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips has spoken out about his experiences as a black man and a black footballer. PICTURE: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
In his latest exclusive column for the YEP, Kaiser Chief and Leeds United fan Simon Rix is showing the red card to vague answers and applauding those in the game standing up for injustice.

This possibly isn’t the right place for this but here goes nothing…Marcus Rashford MBE - what a guy. Firstly he’s single handedly keeping Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a job, which can only mean the trophy-less years for Manchester United can continue forever -hurrah. If that wasn’t enough, he’s decided to take on the Government.

Boris and co. are old masters of sloganeering - no matter what question they are asked, a brief look at the Tory handbook gives them a rhetoric of persuasive one liners like Get Brexit Done or Taking Back Control. Words so carefully generic they are slippery and impossible to tackle, and so succinct they catch in our collective consciousness. Marcus has the cabinet stumped though with his curve ball.

No matter what your political persuasion Let’s Feed Hungry Kids is a pretty solid win.

Rashford isn’t the first footballer this year to take a stand on an issue close to their heart. As football returned earlier in this testing year, the unmistakable commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement was great to see, and hearing voices of Leeds players like Kalvin Phillips and Tyler Roberts in open and honest interviews describing their own experience as black men and black footballers has helped to deal with something that has always been an elephant in the room within football and within society as a whole.

Before the pandemic I saw an article in the Guardian that said 54 per cent of football fans have witnessed racist abuse at football matches. Perhaps 46 per cent just haven’t noticed was my first thought.

From a fan’s point of view it’s also been good to see all of us mere mortals on the sidelines doing our bit as well. Speaking up. Over the years there’s been quite a few column inches devoted to Leeds fans’ antics off the pitch, On the beaches of Bournemouth and the stands in Paris.

The clubbing together of fans of all persuasions against PPV to raise masses of funds for food banks up and down the country, standing up against this money grab by the broadcasters – it feels like the right reaction to something that can only lead to more piracy which will only effect them (and me as a musician) in the long run.

As a musician I’m often asked if I think it’s the responsibility of public figures to stand up against injustice or voice a political opinion. This week BBC broadcasters face even tighter restrictions on using their voice and position to express personal views, and we’ve seen Rashford take criticism from MPs and trolls on social media about leaving it to the experts. It’s a brave move to speak outside your realm of ‘expertise’, like donning a new strip or playing in the new boots.

Personally it’s taken me time to develop my voice, or perhaps to find my real impetus to use it, I’m still learning and football has actually helped me out. I joined Amnesty International as a teenager and a few years ago became an Ambassador.

They strive to protect our human rights covering many different issues in many parts of the world. Closer to home, we ran a campaign called Football Welcomes which aimed to celebrate and make visible the positive impact refugees and people from refugee backgrounds had had on UK football (from the Second World War Basque refugees to modern footballers like Cantona and Xhaka).

The open response to Football Welcomes was a real eye opener for me, I went in thinking we might struggle to get clubs on board with what could be deemed a divisive issue in some clubs, but I actually found the opposite to be true.

The EFL were really supportive from the off, with 177 clubs from all the levels (including Leeds United who did us proud) getting involved and continuing the work with their communities afterwards.

Football is ready to hear voices from its talent; to front up to its own systemic issues, and to use it’s weight when it’s needed. Led by a new breed of footballers, football is making modern icons on and off the pitch.

So - my answer to the question about speaking out, always used to be a vague reply about it being up to the individual.

But now in these weird times, I’m showing the red card to vague answers. I think as public figures, speaking out about things is really important, partly because we have the privilege of being able to do so, and mainly because we have an opportunity to make some difference - especially if you’re speaking up about something that is close to your heart as it is for Rashford and Kalvin.

It’s up to us all to work together and keep fighting for the things that we feel strongly about.

At a time when our country’s leaders are showing little conscience, we see our city’s independent eateries and bars, our club our players and supporters all stepping up to pick up the slack -paying for kids to eat properly - I feel proud to be Leeds.

By the way. The next PPV game is Crystal Palace, let’s try and beat that total. MOT